PASS CHRISTIAN, MISS. — The only thing recognizable when Cathy Broadway and her family returned home after hurricane Katrina ripped through the Mississippi Gulf Coast was her sports car, flipped upside down and buried up to its wheels in sand.
Her daughter's car was missing, the family's Jet Ski was gone, and their home had disappeared. In fact, the entire neighborhood was gone. All that was left was a simple concrete slab to remind them of where their structure once stood.
"It was a pretty two-story house, on stilts, with a big front porch," said Ms. Broadway, as she wiped back tears. "It makes you a little sad to see a dish here and a picture there - everything from 20 years of marriage scattered about. But hey, it's just stuff. The family's safe, and we will be fine."
The Broadways are returning to their home for the first time since hurricane Katrina hit and, like many others, they are finding the damage far worse than originally reported.
Along this stretch of the Mississippi Gulf Coast - the hardest hit area - entire communities were scratched off the surface of the planet, their timbers lying in heaps. Homes were lifted off their foundations and floated into town. And dozens of people who did not heed the evacuation warning are still missing.
For their part, the Broadways say they love it here and will rebuild when they can. For others, moving away from the coast can't happen fast enough. But the No. 1 priority for everyone right now is finding a place to live - at least temporarily.
Across Louisiana and Mississippi, the number of displaced people is climbing - especially with the situation worsening in New Orleans, pop. 485,000. At least 1 million residents across the region, and possibly many more, remain without electricity, and some are also without clean drinking water. Shelters are still open, hotels are stuffed to the gills, and parking lots are becoming makeshift campgrounds.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has told his residents to find a temporary place to live and get comfortable. "This is going to be a long, hard ordeal," he said in a press conference after surveying the coast on Monday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was considering several options to accommodate the massive number of displaced people. Tent cities, cruise ships, mobile-home parks, and "floating dormitories," which the agency uses to house its own employees, could spring up in the region.
Louisiana officials have asked residents not to return to New Orleans for a month while they sort out the city's many infrastructure problems.
"We're leaving the state as soon as we can," says Colleen Paulson, clutching her toddler and waiting on a muddy curb for rescue. Her family did not evacuate during the storm. Both their house and car were destroyed, so they have nowhere to live and no means to leave.
But getting help so far has been hard. Many of the hardest-hit areas are still impassible, with flooded conditions and downed trees across roads. Communication is impossible. And everywhere you look - including treetops - are toys, rugs, draperies, refrigerators, and clothes.
In addition, local law-enforcement officials are finding it extremely difficult to help people because they lost many of their own vehicles and much of their equipment during the storm. The Hancock County Sheriff's Department, for instance, lost 97 percent of its equipment. The Pass Christian Police Department lost 12 of its 19 vehicles, and its police station was washed away.
Looting has been particularly hard to control because of these circumstances, says Governor Barbour. At a coin laundry and convenience store in Pass Christian, Officer Davis Holston jumps out of his patrol car, clutching his rifle, and screams, "Get out of there now!" Looters run off with what sodas and snacks they can.
Back at the beach, Assistant Police Chief Tom Ruspoli shakes his head at the highway that has been ripped up in places and says, "Camille used to be the benchmark, but Katrina took that title away."
Many here still vividly remember hurricane Camille, which lasted three hours and is considered one of the worst storms to hit the mainland US. This was far worse, they say, because it went on for 12 hours. Many structures that were left standing after Camille in 1969 are simply not there anymore. Most of those that are standing are totally unsalvageable.
"Two days ago, lots around here were going for half a million dollars," says Eric Lynch, picking through tattered remnants. "Now you can't give them away."
He and his wife, Anne, left to stay with friends in Diamondhead and returned home to find that wind and water had washed away most of their possessions. They're returning to their temporary shelter until they can sell their property and leave.
Russell George and Felicia Wiley plan to do the same, but first they have to scratch together enough money to make it out. They moved here a year ago because Ms. Wiley had never seen the beach. Now, she never wants to see it again.
Without a place to go, the couple didn't leave during the hurricane and watched the water rise 16 feet in an hour. "When the rugs began to look like waterbeds," says Wiley, they climbed into the attic with their three-legged pug, Sable. For 12 hours, the house swayed and buckled, and the water reached the ceiling before finally receding.
When they finally climbed down, their home on stilts had slid more than nine inches, all their possessions covered in thick mud. Many homes around them had been washed away entirely.
But it was all worth it, says Mr. George. "She proposed to me up in the attic."
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.